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Scouting Report: Cowboys

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The NFC East championship will be on the line Sunday night when the Giants host the Dallas Cowboys in MetLife Stadium. Both teams are 8-7. The winner of the game will capture the division title, while the loser will be out of the playoffs. The Giants defeated the Cowboys on Dec. 11 in Dallas, 37-34. The Cowboys lead the regular season series, 56-40-2. This will be Dallas' third visit to MetLife Stadium. The Cowboys defeated the Giants, 33-20, on Nov. 14, 2010 in Jason Garrett's head coaching debut. They lost to the Jets in the 2011 season opener, 27-24.

The Cowboys have lost three of their last four games, beating only Tampa Bay during the stretch. Eight of their 15 games have been decided by four points or less; they are 4-4 in those games. Dallas has lost six consecutive Sunday night games, including the loss to the Giants earlier this month.

Offense

The Cowboys are ranked ninth in the NFL with an average of 380.5 yards a game (the Giants are eighth at 381.6). Dallas is 15th in rushing yardage (117.2 a game) and eighth in passing (263.3). The Cowboys are 12th in scoring with an average of 23.7 points a game. Dallas' turnover differential is plus-six, while the Giants' is plus-five.

Quarterback Tony Romo is expected to be at full strength despite suffering broken blood vessels in his throwing hand last week vs. Philadelphia. Romo has not thrown an interception in his last four games (including his two-pass outing against the Eagles) and since Oct. 2 he has tossed 22 touchdown passes and only four picks. He has the fourth-highest passer rating in the league at 102.2.  Romo has a quick release, he's accurate (his 65.4 completion percentage is fourth in the NFL) and few quarterbacks are better at using their feet to bide time in and out of the pocket until a receiver breaks open. Stephen McGee showed again last week that he is a capable backup (completing 24 of 38 passes). Dallas' emergency quarterback is tight end John Phillips, whose only career touchdown was this season against the Giants. The Cowboys also have a practice squad quarterback in Chris Greisen, brother of former Giants linebacker Nick, whose last line of scrimmage NFL snap was in 2000.

Dallas' leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, is on injured reserve after breaking his ankle against the Giants. His replacement, Felix Jones, is battling a hamstring injury (and missed four earlier games with a high ankle sprain), but the Giants know how dangerous he is. Jones stepped in for Murray and rushed for 116 yards on 16 carries in their first meeting. Jones has breakaway speed and a knack for turning potential losses into big gains. Two days after their loss to the Giants, the Cowboys signed 12-year veteran Sammy Morris, who ran for 82 yards the last two weeks. Morris played for the Miami Dolphins when Garrett was the offensive coordinator. He is a smart, tough back with a quick burst and a hard-charging running style.

Fullback Tony Fiammetta, who returned to action against the Giants after missing three games with a concussion, has blocked very well. Dallas' running game is more productive when Fiammetta is clearing holes for Jones.

Miles Austin also played for the first time against the Giants after missing four games with a hamstring injury. He has caught a touchdown pass in each of the Cowboys' three games since his return. Austin, normally Dallas' most targeted receiver, is a big, smooth athlete who is a good route runner and has a large strike zone. He is also the Cowboys' gadget specialist and is capable of running with the ball. Dez Bryant had only one reception vs. the Giants, but it was a 50-yard touchdown, which is indicative of his talent and explosiveness. He leads Dallas' wideouts with 57 catches and 858 yards and has scored nine touchdowns. Laurent Robinson also has nine scores and he had a season-long 74-yarder and a touchdown among his four catches on Dec. 11. Robinson has scored a red zone touchdown in six of the last eight games. Kevin Ogletree and Dwayne Harris, who was signed off the practice squad two weeks ago, could also get some snaps.

Jason Witten's streak of seven consecutive Pro Bowl selections ended this week, but that doesn't change his status as one of the NFL's very best tight ends. Witten, who is never off the field, leads the Cowboys with 71 catches for 873 yards – 14 of those receptions have gained more than 20 yards. Witten is a big target down the seam and he has become Romo's ultimate security blanket. Martellus Bennett missed the first Giants game with a rib injury, but he has six catches in his last two outings. Bennett has good vertical speed, he is frequently used on screens and he's an outstanding blocker.

The Cowboys have been forced to make one change to their starting offensive line, replacing left guard Montrae Holland (left biceps injury) with nine-year veteran Derrick Dockery, whom the Giants know well from his six seasons with the Washington Redskins. Dockery, who once started 111 consecutive games, is a big, powerful blocker. Left tackle Doug Free has missed only two snaps the entire season. The center is Phil Costa, who made the team as a rookie free agent in 2010, suffered a concussion against the Giants, but returned the next week in Tampa Bay. He is quick, smart and alert. Kyle Kosier this year moved from left to right guard, where he is a steadying influence between Costa and rookie tackle Tyron Smith. He is a tough, savvy player who is difficult to fool. Smith, who just turned 21, was Dallas' first-round draft choice this year and is now arguably the Cowboys' best lineman. He has played well and shows no signs of hitting a rookie wall. Kevin Kowalski could get some snaps.

Defense

Dallas is 14th in the NFL in total defense, allowing 336.9 yards a game. The Cowboys are seventh against the run (98.6) and 23rd vs. the pass (238.3). Dallas is tied for 10th in scoring defense, giving up 21.1 points per game.

The Cowboys have an active defense that uses multiple packages and a lot of late movement in an effort to confuse blockers and confound protection calls.

Left end Kenyon Coleman is in his second tour of duty with the Cowboys. A 3-4 defensive end his entire career, he spent the previous two years in Cleveland with Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Coleman is an outstanding run defender. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff – who missed practice Wednesday with a rib injury – was just voted to his fourth Pro Bowl. He is unusually quick and athletic for the position, but strong enough to be an effective anchor on the nose. Right end Jason Hatcher leads the defensive linemen with 4.0 sacks. A college tight end until his senior season, Hatcher is a solid, steady, high-motor player. Sean Lissemore has seen more playing time as Ratliff's reserve. Josh Brent is a squatty, powerful backup nose tackle. Marcus Spears is a former starter who splits time with Hatcher. He is a strong, heavy-bodied player. Clifton Geathers has played a handful of snaps.

The biggest star on the defense, if not the entire team, is linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who this week was selected to his sixth Pro Bowl. He is tied for second in the NFL with 18.0 sacks. Ware, who is dealing with a neck injury, is widely regarded as the best outside linebacker in the NFL. He normally lines up on the weak side, but he will sometimes run to the other side of the formation – or even in the middle - before the snap as part of Dallas' ongoing effort to confuse the opposition. Ware is an explosive and instinctive pass rusher who has a plan and can counterpunch in an instant. The other outside backer is Anthony Spencer, who has 6.0 sacks. He has played very physical football against opposing tight ends. Inside linebacker Sean Lee, who has been playing much of the season with a wrap on his left hand because of a dislocated wrist, leads the Cowboys with 120 tackles (81 solo). Lee makes all the huddle calls and keeps the defense together. He leaves the field only when Dallas uses a four-lineman, seven-defensive back alignment. Bradie James is a two-down player who plays the fewest snaps of the starting linebackers, but he is a productive power player. Keith Brooking, a 14-year veteran and five-time Pro Bowler, plays some snaps in the base defense and in the nickel package for James. He still runs around and makes plays and is fourth on the team with 67 tackles (46 solo). Victor Butler, who gets the majority of his snaps in the sub defenses and is fast off the edge as a pass rusher, has played more since the first Giants game.

Strong safety Abram Elam is also back with the Cowboys after playing for Ryan in Cleveland. He knows the defense cold and gets everyone lined up in the secondary. Elam can make a mess of the opposition's run game. Free safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who had six tackles vs. the Giants, has good ball awareness. Backup Barry Church is a good box safety with excellent instincts. Danny McCray missed last week's game with a high ankle sprain. Mana Silva was recently signed off Buffalo's practice squad and could get some snaps. Left corner Terence Newman has been selected to two Pro Bowls. He is tied with Lee for the team lead with four interceptions and his 10 pass breakups top the team. He is a smart, savvy veteran with very good route recognition. Newman has good closing quickness and likes to jump the underneath routes. On the right side, Mike Jenkins started the first seven games, missed the next four with a hamstring injury and has been in the lineup for the last four. He can cover most top receivers. Orlando Scandrick is the nickel back and started when Jenkins was sidelined. He has good speed range and disguises his blitzes well. Former Giant Frank Walker plays in the dime package. Alan Ball started 16 games at safety last year and has returned to cornerback.

Special Teams

Rookie kicker Dan Bailey is third in the NFL with 133 points and has made 32 of 36 field goal attempts (88.9 percent), with a long of 51. Left-footed punter Mat McBriar, an Australian, has a 43.8-yard gross average and his 36.1-yard net average leaves him 29th in the NFL. Dwayne Harris is the new kickoff returner. He has averaged 31.8 yards on just five runbacks, but has demonstrated a knack for making the first tackler miss. Bryant is again returning punts and has a 6.9-yard average. He returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown against the Giants last season. Long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur has played in 107 consecutive games. McCray leads Dallas with 18 special teams tackles.

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